Damage control

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Today one of my students told me she doesn't think she's pretty. She said that she got teased a lot in elementary and middle school about the way she looks and so now, even when her parents and sisters tell her she's pretty, she doesn't believe them. I wanted to shake her and yell, "You're pretty! You're pretty!" But I also know it takes a long time to believe something about yourself, especially when you've spent years thinking the opposite. 

After my JRA diagnosis, I think I convinced myself that I couldn't be active. I think I believed that I was doing the best possible thing for my joints -- resting them -- instead of really moving them. A small part of me told myself that my body wasn't as good as everyone else's -- my joints were damaged and defunct. I guess it's not the same, because no one really told me I couldn't do it -- couldn't be active. But, for some reason, for the longest time, I really believed it. 

I've never had to struggle much with big weight gains or weight losses, but I have struggled with my weight. Since high school, I have stayed in the same 20 pound range, even when on mega doses of steroids. Near the end of college, I was at the high end of that range. When I became a Jazzercise instructor a year later, I was at the low end. I have gone back to the high end and back to the low end twice since then. 

On Thanksgiving morning, I weighed myself, and there it was. 

The number that popped up in front of me was my I'll-never-weigh-that-much-again goal weight. I think any of us who are diet or weight conscious have this number in mind... "I mean, ideally I'd REALLY like to be ___, but I'd be happy if I could just get to ___." I didn't necessarily start running or half marathon training to lose weight, but it's been part of the journey. 

Although I got excited for a minute, it didn't give me the thrill I thought it would. Yep, I reached a number on the scale. But it doesn't make me a better teacher, a kinder friend, a more loving daughter. It doesn't make me a better athlete or a better person. It doesn't make me much of anything, really. It's just that: a number on the scale. 

For years, I told myself, "You can't be fit." I'd never been fit. I didn't think it mattered to me. 

But, it DOES matter. It matters because I want to be active and moving on these joints as long as possible. It matters to me because I want to be able to fix and lift and move stuff in my house without having to call someone to do it (unless it's a couch or something. Seriously, I'm not Super Woman). It matters because I want to be able to run after the children I'm going to have someday. It matters because it's what I want. It matters more because it's what I NEED. It's not a number on the scale -- it's being active and fit and healthy.

I keep thinking about my student tonight... about how she feels like she "isn't" something. I think about how many times we have to hear the opposite of something in order to undo the negative message in our heads. I don't know how many years it will take for my student to wake up and believe she's pretty. I know it took me a long time to wake up and realize my body wasn't damaged or decrepit -- just different than other people's. 

It's true, you know, we are often our own worst enemies. And maybe I can't stop the voice inside my students' head. But, I can tell her she's pretty, and hope she remembers that, just as I can tell myself that my body isn't damaged, and hope I never forget it.


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